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By: Aisling Bronach of House Shadow Drake

Arianrhod appears in the Mabinogion, known originally as the White Book of the Rhydderch, as the sister of Gwydion ap Math ap Mathonwy. (Matthews: 25) They are both the children of Don (ibid.) The story says that when Math lost his footholder, it was Gwydion who elected to have his sister taker her place. (ibid.) The footholder of Math was supposed to be chaste, and so Arianrhod was put to the test. (ibid.) The test consisted of her having to step over the wand of Math. When she did so, she prematurely gave birth to twin sons: Lleu and Dylan. (ibid.)

Immediately, Gwydion takes the children into his own care. (ibid.) The story goes to say that when Dylan was baptized he immediately swam off into the sea, or in some of the other stories he was drowned. (Matthews: 64) One of the Welsh Triads later explains that Dylan was killed by his uncle Gobhan, but there is no further record of that story and it is considered to be lost. (ibid.)

Gwydion abducts or saves Lleu and fosters him as his own child. (MacKillop: 265) It is believed that the re-telling of the story in the Mabinogion changed it to fostering, and that Gwydion might have actually been Lleu's father by incest. (ibid.) By the time that Lleu is one year old, he attends court with Gwydion. Arianrhod accuses Gwydion of "pursuing her shame." (ibid.) Arianrhod then curses Lleu three times by laying him under geis that he will not have a name or arms unless she gives it to him herself, and finally that he will never have a human wife. (Matthews: 25)

Order of Events

  1. Gilvaethwy falls in love with Goewin and confides his secret to Gwydion.

  2. Gwydion and Gilvaethwy start a war between Dyfed and Gwynedd.

  3. Gilvaethwy rapes Goewin.

  4. Gilvaethwy and Gwydion confess to Math and are transformed into animals.

  5. Gwydion volunteers his sister, Arianrhod, to replace Goewin.

  6. Arianrhod fails the test of chastity and gives birth to twin sons.

  7. Dylan is drowned and Lleu is saved or abducted by Gwydion.

  8. Gwydion takes Lleu to court and Arianrhod places a tri-fold curse upon her son.

  9. Gwydion uses trickery to obtain a name and arms for Lleu from Arianrhod, and then fashions him a wife made out of flowers.

Why Did Math Loose His Footholder?

Math rules over Gwynedd, which is the Northern portion of Wales, while Pryderi rules over the Southern portion of Wales called Dyfed. (Rolleston: 378) Math sent his nephews, Gwydion and Gilvaethwy, to maintain the land in his stead while he rested his feet within the lap of the fairest chaste maiden per his geis. (ibid.) This maiden was Goewin ap Pebin of Dol Pebin in Arvon. (ibid.) However, Gilvaethwy fell madly in love with Goewin and sought to obtain her by any means necessary. He confided his secret to his brother Gwydion. (ibid.) Gwydion then went to Math and convinced him to let him go to Pryderi to request a gift of magical swine which were kept there. (ibid.) Pryderi was not allowed to give the swine away until he had doubled their number, but through an illusion Gwydion was able to barter for the swine using imaginary horses and hounds. (Rolleston: 379) When the illusion was broken, Pryderi went into Math's lands to retrieve his pigs and a war was unleashed between the two lands. Math was alleviated of his geis while he was at war protecting the welfare of his lands. (ibid.) While Math was away, Gilvaethwy seized the opportunity, raped Goewin, and made her his unwilling wife.(ibid.)

Consequently, Math discovers the treachery of his nephews and changes Gwydion and Gilvaethwy into a number of different animals, including: a stag and a hind, a boar and a sow, and then finally a male and female wolf. During this transformations, Gwydion and Gilvaethwy were shamed by being forced to mate with each other, and even bearing offspring together. (MacKillop: 233) Finally, they were changed back to their human forms. It is at this point that Gwydion is able to fashion the flower wife, Blodeuwedd for Lleu. (ibid.)

What Happened to Dylan?

After Arianrhod gave birth to the twins, Dylan and Lleu, Dylan is said to have been drowned. In some local stories, it is either Math or Arianrhod who throws Dylan into the sea. (Coulter and Turner: 68) In the Mabinogion, it states that, "He took on its nature, and swam as well as the best fish that was therein." Moreover, for that reason he was called Dylan, meaning "Son of the Wave." (Spence: 27) It was said that beneath him no wave ever broke. Another legend states that Dylan was killed from a spear by his uncle Gobhan, and that the waves of the surrounding lands wept for him. (ibid.) The sound of the sea running up the Conway River is still called, "Dylan's Death Groan." (ibid.) This story appears to be very reminiscent of the slaying of the Irish goddess Brigit's son, Ruadan, who was killed by a single blow from his uncle Gobhan's spear. Near Glynllifon, a place that has local folklore concerning Arianrhod, there is a place refereed to by the men who love there as Pwynt Maen Dylan. (Rhys: 210)

Medrawd can be connected to the Irish Ruadan or the earlier Welsh Dylan. According to Rolleston in his book, "Celtic Myths and Legends," he specifically shows Medrawt as being the equivalent of Dylan and Later becoming Sir Mordred of Arthurian legend. (Rolleston: 352) In the Annales Cambriae, Medrawd is said to have died at Camlon in 539 AD

Caer Arianrhod

Caer Arianrhod is the name given to the Corona Borealis and to the sea-laved castle of the same name which is said to be located near the pre-historic mound of Dinas Dinlle near the Menai Straits. (Rhys: 645)

The reef or submerged rock, off the west coast of Arvon is often referred to as Caer Arianrhod. (Spencer: 27) John Rhys suggests that Arianrhod may have been a water faerie who lived in a water-girt castle. (ibid.) It is suggested by Lhuyd that this submerged rock may have been referred to as Caer Arianrhod since the period of the Mabinogion itself. (ibid.) Modernly, Caer Arianrhod is referred to as Caranthreg. (Rhys: 207)

Arianrhod means "silver circle" and may be a reference to the flow of the sea around the submerged rock. (Spence: 27) The Welsh Triads refer to Arianrhod by saying, "Round her flows the River Efnys." (ibid.)

In Llangefni, near Anglesey, there are stories about women who came from Tregar Anthreg to Caer Loda to fetch food or water, and looking back, they saw a town which had been flooded by the sea and that the walls could still be seen at low water. (Rhys: 207) One of the women was called Gwennan, and she was buried at Bed Gwennan. (ibid.) Tregar Anthreg can easily be witnessed from Dinas Dinlle as a rock in the water that is located not too far from the shore. (ibid.)

Another variation of the same story relates how three sisters by the names of Gwen, Elan, and Maelan came from Tregan Anhreg to gather provisions and while they were gone their own city was consumed by the sea. (Rhys: 208) Gwen ran to Bed Gwennan. Maelan fled to Rhos Maelan, otherwise known as Maelon's Moor. Elan went to Tydyn Elan which is also called Elan's Holding. All of these locations are names of places in the nearby area of Anglesey. (ibid.) In the area of Glynllifon, the same story is told, but the title of bi don is attached to the end of each of the three sister's names. (ibid.) Bi don appears to be a late period method of saying "child of Donn." (Rhys: 210)

Within the area surrounding Glynllifon, the place identified as Caer Arianrhod was though to be a place of wickedness. For this reason, only Arianrhod's sisters were permitted to escape. (Rhys: 209) Arianrhod was believed to have drowned, but there was no reason for her death ever supplied in the local stories.(ibid.)

<>A few notes should be made concerning the names of these places and their linguistic transformations over time: (Rhys: 207)
Caer Arianrhod - Carenthreg
Carmarthen - Tre'Gaerfyrden
Caeae'r Aelodau - Caer Loda (meaning "field of limbs")

Other names for Caer Arianrhod are: Tregar-Anhreg, Tregar Anthreg, Tregan Anhreg, Tregan Amthreg, and Tregar Anthrod - all of which are corruptions of Tre-Gaer-Arianrhod. (Rhys: 208) Interestingly, the Welsh word anrhreg means "a gift." (ibid.)

Another interesting note is that Porth Aethwy, the village of the Menai bridge is from a reduced form of Maethwy of Gilvaethwy and occurs in the Record of Carnarvon as Porthaytho. (Rhys: 693)

Arianrhod as a Welsh Morgan

Lhuyd suggests that Arianrhod became the Arthuran Argentem or Queen of Avalon, who is referred to elsewhere as Morgan le Fee' and described by Layamon, and early English poet. (Spence: 27)

In Brittany, the term morgan is used to refer to a mermaid. (Spence: 28) Welsh morgans are lake faeries who have a love for deep water. (Tongue: 26) In some parts of Wales, the morgan is said to kidnap children. (Spence: 28)

Within Welsh culture, the significance and view of lakes and the sea are the same, and so the morgan is a water faerie who can easily be found in either location. (Tongue: 28) Morgan, or Morgen, and the older form of the word Morien, means "sea-born" or "offspring of the sea." (Rhys: 373) It is directly related to the Irish Muirgen which was an epithet for a lake lady in Ireland by the name of Liban. (ibid.) The story of Liban relates how she was neglectful in the covering of a well and consequently the waters rushed forth and became Lough Neagh. (ibid.) Liban did not die, but rather made her home beneath the lake until she changed into a salmon. (ibid.) Morgan is also the name of the lady of the lake who cares for Arthur at her home in Avalon. She is also the half-sister of Arthur. (Rhys: 374)


Ann, Martha, and Imel, Dorothy. Goddesses in World Mythology. (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 1993.)

Coulter, Charles, and Tuner, Patricia. Encyclopedia of Ancient Dieties. (NC: MacFarland and Company, 2000.)

Gantz, Jeffrey, trans. The Mabinogion. (NY: Penguin Books, 1976.)

MacKillop, Patricia. Dictionary of Celtic Mythology. (NY: Oxford University Press, 1998.)

Maeir, Benjamin. Cyril Edwards, trans. Dictionary of Celtic Religion and Culture. (Boydell Press, 1997.)

Matthews, John and Caitlin. The Aquarian Guide to British and Irish Mythology. (UK: Aquarian Press, 1988.)

Rees, Alwyn and Brinley. Celtic Heritage: Ancient Tradition in Ireland and Wales. (London, UK: Thames and Hudson, 1961.)

Rhys, John. Celtic Folklore: Welsh and Manx. (NY: Benjamin Blom, 1972.)

Rolleston, T. W. Celtic Myths and Legends. (London, UK: Senate, 1994.)

Spence, Lewis. The Minor Traditions of British Mythology. (NY: Arno Press, 1979.)

Tongue, Ruth. Forgotten Folk-Tales of the English Counties. (London, UK: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1970.)

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